Chapter 21: Pairing Wine With Guests

There are a wide variety of books available on pairing wine with food.  A great number of experts have covered this topic.  Arguments can be made for certain pairings and it is wise to know your wine list and how it pairs with different dishes on your menu.  Your knowledge of these pairings should correspond with the depth of your wine list.  Wine can make a meal more enjoyable and even taste better.  It can also significantly increase the guests’ check.

Most guests are not sommeliers and are not as concerned with the proper wine pairing as finding a wine they will enjoy.  If your guest does not like white wine, it is an uphill battle to try to pair an oak heavy chardonnay with their fish entrée.  This may even result in your guests enjoying their meal less.  As a great server, your job is really to pair the wine with your guests’ tastes.  Trying to force a complementary wine to a guest who does not like it is the equivalent of trying to sell Kobe beef to a vegan.  The wine that best complements the meal is the one the guest enjoys the most.

With hundreds of thousands of wines available from around the world, no one person can be expected to know everything about all of them.  This does not excuse you from being an expert on the wines that you sell.  This will allow you to guide your guests through the selections you have available.  You are just as responsible for recommending the right wine as you are the proper entrée.  The guest has preferences and it is your responsibility to find the wine that best suits them.

When trying to pair wine with your guests, use the following steps to offer the best recommendation:

Ask questions to Narrow:  The easiest way to get information on what the guest likes is to ask them.  Start with general questions and get more specific with each one.  Use questions that require the guest to choose between two options, and with each consecutive question narrow down the options.  Examples of this include, “Are you in the mood for red or white wine?” followed up with  “Do you like something lighter or more full-bodied?”  Each question should get you closer to the appropriate selection.

Consider the Entrée:  It is only after you know your guests’ preferences that you then should take into account their entrée selection.  This is another piece of information that can be used to narrow down the options and move closer to the right recommendation.  Be prepared to recommend a variety of wines to complement each entrée.  If the guest has not made a decision on the entrée, simply ask whether they are leaning towards a particular type of entrée.

Inform, Then Recommend:  The prices on most wine lists vary widely.  This leads guests to be more price-conscious than they might be with other selections.  This is why it is important to tell them why you are recommending a particular selection, before telling them which glass or bottle you are suggesting.  If you lead with the recommendation, their eyes and thoughts are going to go straight to the price.  This will often lead to them being preoccupied with price instead of hearing the justification for your recommendation.

Pairing wine with your guests is an excellent way to raise your guest check average and, in turn, your income.  You will create far more satisfied guests when you recommend a wine they enjoy.  Your knowledge should never be more important than what they want. No one likes a wine snob for a server.  It is not your job to suggest the wine that is right for the meal, but rather the wine that is right for the guest.

This is an excerpt from Tips2:Tips For Improving Your Tips (c) 2011 by David Hayden All Rights Reserved